BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
MADISON, Wis. — There is a “down of reckoning” in the trenches when an offensive lineman charges out of his stance and the defensive lineman takes on the charge and delivers a blow of his own.
It’s usually the first meaningful play of the game.
“Lining up across a tackle,” said 6-foot-7, 300-pound Wisconsin defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk, “if he were to shoot down at me on the very first play, that’s going to change my mindset.
“But if I’m able to do that to him — come off on that first play and kind of shake him up a little bit — that’s what I go for early on to get into their mindset.
“If you can, you get in the head of your opponent. It goes both ways. They’re trying to show us that they’re the big dogs. On the opposite side, we’re trying to state our dominance to begin with.”
It’s the game within the game, and Loudermilk is just happy to be playing it again after missing training camp and the season opener while still rehabbing from knee surgery.
Loudermilk tore his meniscus near the end of spring practice and had surgery in early May. After missing three games his redshirt freshman season due to injury, he felt that he handled the setback well.
“My main goal was to get back as fast as I could.”
The target date was the Big Ten opener at Iowa.
“That was how the trainers and doctors were talking,” said Loudermilk, who’s from Howard, Kansas. “I didn’t want to push it too much. I wanted to feel 100 percent when I came back.”
Loudermilk had his own unspoken timetable.
“I was kind of hoping to have it happen like it did happen,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to play in the first game. But I wanted to get into the second game a little bit, which I did. And, then, in the third game, I wanted to be full-go.
“I was pretty far ahead of schedule. This week was supposed to be the first full week back.”
UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was delighted to welcome him back sooner than later.
“Obviously, Isaiahh brings a certain level of physicality,” Leonhard said. “It’s great for our young guys or old guys to watch him play. He plays hard and with a great pad level.
“He’s got a calm confidence to him. He’s not a real vocal guy, he’s not a real loud guy. But he shows up and works every day and gets better.”
Loudermilk can thank others for helping him improve from the time he stepped on campus. As a true freshman, a product of 8-man high school football, he had much to learn on the scout team.
During his redshirt year, his teacher was All-America left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who went on to be a first-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints and an immediate starter in the NFL.
“Coach always made me go against him,” Loudermilk remembered. “He’d hit me, and he’d do little things and I’d get thrown here and there — which kind of opened my eyes to where I needed to be.
“I was 270 to 280 and I wasn’t a very strong kid … He was a super strong guy. He was really quick, and his technique was on another level.
“It was a big shock my freshman year. But that was pretty cool to go against a guy like that, and the guys we have here, too, some of the top linemen in the country. They’ve made me a lot better.”
2011: ☑️ 2012: ☑️ 2014: ☑️ 2016: ☑️ 2017: ☑️ 2018: ____ #OnWisconsin
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 19, 2018
Wisconsin and Iowa take pride in their offensive line play. Tackles Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320) and Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320) are the bookends of that unit for Kirk Ferentz, a former O-line coach in the NFL.
“For our unit, as a defensive line, we have to trust what we see and go with it and not second guess ourselves,” Loudermilk said. “We have to see what happens and react to it as soon as it does happen.
“They’re really big guys. A big thing for us is to strike and make sure we hold our own on the line so that our linebackers can flow. But we can also make plays when we do that.”
Loudermilk will be playing in front of family at Kinnick Stadium, a seven-hour drive from Howard (population: 601), where he was all-state in football and basketball at West Elk High School.
As a junior, Loudermilk averaged 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Raw but rugged, he made a name for himself on the field, the court and the track (conference shot put champion).
As for the unique spelling of his first name — Isaiahh — he just shrugged his broad shoulders.
“I still haven’t figured it out,” he confessed with a shy smile. “My mom never really told me. They just threw an extra ‘h’ on there … maybe it was to make me feel a little more special.”
First and 10: Iowa
1. With his 14th career touchdown catch, junior Noah Fant moved past every tight end in school history, a list that includes Marv Cook, Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki. Fant (6-5, 241) has caught 13 TD passes from quarterback Nate Stanley in the last 16 games.
2. Fant and sophomore T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250) form a potent one-two punch at TE. Last year, Fant had 30 catches for 494 yards and 11 TDs; Hockenson had 24 for 320 and three scores. Fant had the highest yards per catch average (16.5) in the nation among tight ends.
3. One of Stanley’s deep threats is senior wide receiver Nick Easley, a junior college teammate of Andrew Van Ginkel at Iowa Western. Against Northern Iowa, Easley had a career-high 10 catches (for 103 yards), the most by an Iowa WR in seven years. He caught 51 passes in 2017.
4. With the graduation losses of Akrum Wadley and James Butler, the Hawks are relying on Tailback-By-Committee with former Monona Grove High School star Toren Young, the leading rusher (43 carries for 234 yards); Mehki Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin.
5. Stanley, who hails from Menomonie, Wisconsin, is 11-5 as a starter, 8-2 at Kinnick Stadium, where he has thrown for 1,935 yards and 20 touchdowns, punctuated by his five TDs in the Ohio State upset last season. Stanley threw for 309 yards against Northern Iowa.
6. Departed linebackers Joey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann combined for 772 career tackles, leaving a void. Through three games, five players have made at least one start at LB: Nick Niemann (Ben’s brother), Amani Jones, Kristian Welch, Jack Hockaday and Djimon Colbert.
7. BYU’s defensive end Corbin Kaufusi (6-9, 285) was a handful with six tackles. It doesn’t get any easier/smaller with DT Matt Nelson (6-8, 295) and DE Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271). The Nelsons, unrelated, are part of a unit that has allowed 25 rushing yards the last two games.
8. Only Oklahoma State (16) and Penn State (13) have more sacks than Iowa (12). Eight different players have at least one. A.J. Epenesa, who comes off the bench, is the team leader with four sacks (two vs. Iowa State). Parker Hesse, who’s in grad school, has two.
9. Offensive guard Dalton Ferguson, a former walk-on who started last week, has an excuse to be distracted. On Sept. 7, his girlfriend gave birth to twin daughters. Because they were five weeks premature, they’ve been getting care at the children’s hospital overlooking Kinnick.
10. Entering his 20th Big Ten season, Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured active head coach at a single school. Rounding out the top five are TCU’s Gary Patterson (hired in 2000), Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy (’05), Ohio’s Frank Solich (’05), and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham (’05).
Note to Quote
The Badgers held Iowa to just 66 total yards in last season’s 38-14 win at Camp Randall Stadium. It’s the fewest they’ve ever allowed to a Big Ten opponent; the second fewest overall in school history (Temple had 45 yards in 2005); and the lowest total of Ferentz’s 243 games as head coach. The Hawkeyes, who were coming off a shocking 55-24 trouncing of Ohio State, had only five first downs, 25 rushing yards on 26 carries (factoring in four sacks for a minus-37), and failed to convert on third down (0-for-13). This week, a number of Iowa players have admitted to “sleep-walking” through the game; something that they promised won’t happen again. By the way, this should be a maximum effort, all-hands-on-deck showdown. Both teams have a bye next Saturday.
Quote to Note
On his defensive expectations after the BYU loss, Leonhard said, “We have to execute in crucial situations better than we did a week ago. There was a lot of good in that tape. But obviously not enough. We know what this (Iowa) game is all about. The most physical team is going to win. The team that plays and executes better is going to win. That’s the history of this rivalry.”